A fraudster has been jailed and ordered to pay back money he made in a property rental scam.

Following a series of reports to Action Fraud, Zhaker Darvesh has been jailed for conning victims into paying him thousands of pounds in deposits for rental properties. Darvesh advertised properties on Gumtree and collected deposits from victims, ranging anything from £9,500 to £3,200. Some of his victims were left in horror after arriving at properties on move-in dates only to find they had been scammed.

Darvesh would stop replying to messages, calls and emails from victims when he had received their payments. After receiving multiple complaints, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau investigated Darvesh and discovered that whilst he was working as a legitimate real estate agent, he used one of the flats to falsely advertise on Gumtree. He also rented out another flat under his own company name.

In total, Darvesh stole £12,000 from six victims. He admitted six counts of fraud in court and was sentenced to 13 months in prison. He has also been ordered to pay back any money he made to his victims.

Head of Action Fraud, Pauline Smith said: “ This prosecution is a good result and one that shows the importance of reporting fraud and cyber-crime to Action Fraud. None of Zhaker Darvesh’s victims knew each other but thanks to the reports they made to Action Fraud, the NFIB were able to link them together and show where the offender had committed his crimes and how.”

Fraud is a unique crime in that it can affect numerous victims based in different places and involve a suspect living in yet another location. Action Fraud provides a central hub to which all fraud can be reported, every case and piece of information is the cross referenced within the NFIB system, which means every report you make matters and can make a difference.”

Toyin Akinyemi, a senior crown prosecutor at the CPS, told Action Fraud: “Zhaker Darvesh acted as a rookie estate agent dishonestly collecting deposits for flats in east London. He drafted fake contracts and kept in contact with customers answering their queries and discussing move-in dates, before ‘ghosting’ them after receiving payments. Some victims were left stood outside the properties on their move-in date only to find that they had been duped.

“The defendant was fully aware of the opportunity to exploit those seeking to secure rented accommodation in east London and did so without hesitation. This planned, deliberate fraud was led by Darvesh’s greed and caused significant inconvenience and stress to victims who were in need of accommodation. I hope this prosecution shows that the CPS will take fraudsters to court to face justice where there is the evidence to do so.”

How can you protect yourself against scams?

Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure you’re not a victim of a rental scam:

  • Never send money upfront before you’ve viewed a property. Transferring funds to secure a room is not standard and any landlord asking for a holding deposit may not have the best of intentions.
  • Avoid listings that have no photographs.
  • Visit the rental property in person and check the landlord’s ID. You should also check the veracity of any safety certificates (in particular for gas and electric).
  • If you’re asked to wire money via a service such as Western Union, be suspicious.
  • Check that a property actually exists.
  • Never pay for a deposit in cash. Use a credit card if you can – this offers more protection.
  • Use the Land Registry to check if the landlord is the legal owner of the property.
  • Check if the landlord is a member of a national recognised body, for example the National Landlords Association or the Residential Landlords Association.
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